CHICAGO — As Congress debates health-care reform in Washington, members of Teamsters Local 743 here are taking the fight for health care to the picket line. On Aug. 25, some 75 members walked off the job at SK Hand Tools, which supplies for Sears’ Craftsman brand, in response to the companies’ suspension of health-care coverage for the SK workers.
The company and the union have been involved in contentious negotiations for months. The union contract expired on Feb. 28. Management has asked the workers, who make on average $14 per hour, to take a 40 percent pay cut and severe cuts in health-care and pension benefits.
Management was used to getting its way with Local 743. However, that changed in 2007 when the corrupt old guard that ran the union was thrown out by the members in favor of the rank-and-file New Leadership slate, headed by Richard Berg. Since then, the old guard president has been convicted of election fraud and cocaine smuggling.
Teamsters Local 743 made it clear that workers wouldn’t accept the draconian concessions demanded by SK management. In retaliation, SK unilaterally suspended health-care coverage for the workers in May without notifying workers or the union. Instead, workers found out with a trip to the doctor or pharmacy. The loss of their health-care coverage has caused great hardship for the workers, with some owing thousands of dollars to doctors and hospitals.
The workers walked off the job on Aug. 25, declaring an unfair labor practices strike. The union has filed charges against SK with the National Labor Relations Board. Workers have maintained 24-hour picket lines at SK’s two locations.
The strike has received support from across the labor movement, including The Chicago Federation of Labor, Teamsters Joint Council 25, AFSCME District Council 31, United Electrical Workers, and many others. Rank-and file workers and activists are visiting the picket lines to show their solidarity with SK workers, whose struggle has highlighted both the broad assault on workers’ wages and benefits and the health-care crisis.
Local 743 is taking this fight to Sears, the primary outlet for SK Hand Tools. The union has held pickets at Sears’s flagship downtown store and plans to launch a national campaign to pressure Sears to stop doing business with this union-busting company. The SK workers will need broad support from the labor movement to win this fight.
For more information on how to support the SK workers, visit http://www.743teamsters.org. —Dave Bernt